Review: The Seagull Books Catalogue 2015-16

Seagull CatalogueI know what my readers are thinking: You are reviewing a catalogue, how boring can that be?  But please bear with me for a moment because the Seagull Catalogue of books is so much more than a listing and description of their forthcoming titles.  It is a work of art, of literature and literature in translation in its own right.

When I first suggested to Naveen at Seagull Books that I review their catalogue I was surprised to find that no one had ever done so before.  He told me that they choose a theme every year and it starts with a letter from him to everyone involved in their process, from authors to translators to booksellers.  The responses he receives from writers are translated into English and finally are passed along to their artist Sunandini so that she can design the corresponding art work.  The entire process for publishing this catalogue is impressive, to say the least, and the final product is a beautiful work of art.

Naveen’s opening letter for this catalogue, dated February 13th, contains reflections about sight Eyesand blindness and hindsight.  His letter begins, “Man will pluck their eyes.  This is known. Out of shame. And horror. Over a deed committed. Often more imagined than the truth.  Sometimes as a gesture made drama.”  The first two responses to his letter, from Reinhard Jirgl and Benedict Anderson, pick up on the idea of blindness as a punishment by referring to the Ancient Greek story of Oedipus.

Oedipus marries a woman who is much older than him; he doesn’t truly see or recognize her, he only sees happiness.  If he had truly looked at her and seen her he might have noticed the family resemblance because Jocasta is actually his biological mother.  Jocasta chooses to hang herself when the truth is revealed but Oedipus sees this as an easy way out.  In order to truly punish himself for his crime he chooses to gouge his eyes out; blindness will cause him deeper and a more prolonged suffering than death.  Naveen and Ben continue their interesting conversation via letters about blindness as penance in different cultures, stories and myths.

Boy on a trainThe artwork that corresponds to the series of letters is equally as stunning.  In one image a boy looks out the window of what appears to be a train;

 

Seagull Paintingin another a sculpture is being painted with the finishing touches and emphasis being put on the eyes;

 

 

 

Red eye ravenand in yet another a raven is painted in black with its eye highlighted in a striking shade of red.

 

 

The catalogue also gives us a chance to experiences pieces from writers whose works are forthcoming from Seagull.  One of my favorite writings from the first part of the catalogue is a snippet of a the notebooks of Klaus Hoffer whose personal memoir recounts his suffering from the medical condition of elephantiasis.  Because of this illness, different parts of the body become painfully swollen and as a result his classmates called him “Oedipus” which in Ancient Greek literally means “swollen foot.”  Hoffer speaks about the themes of suffering and punishment which for him are of a very personal nature.  He contemplates and attempts suicide a few times in his life but by the end of this writing he seems to be resigned to his sickly fate at the age of 42.  I look forward to Hoffer’s novel Among the Bieresch, a description of which is included in the catalogue and will be published later this month by Seagull.

I could go on and on describing the writing and art work in this beautiful catalogue which is almost 500 pages long.  Thomas Bernhard, Max Neumann and Pascal Quingard all have pieces in the catalogue that are short yet powerfully descriptive works.  Furthermore, Seagull demonstrates their appreciation for the work of excellent translators by including three poems from James Reidel who has done a masterful job of translating several Seagull titles.

Naveen is not only a publisher but he is a brilliant artist and writer worthy of the same attention he brings to the books he publishes.  After reading the catalogue I am even more confident of his ability to continue to find and highlight the best of translated literature, poetry, philosophy and essays from around the world.

 

25 Comments

Filed under Art, Literary Fiction, Literature in Translation, Seagull Books

25 responses to “Review: The Seagull Books Catalogue 2015-16

  1. Wonderful pictures and there books sound great as well

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Melissa, a super idea to review the catalogue — cannot think of another catalogue so deserving of being read and admired so much. I’m also delighted that the Seagull Books cult is blossoming.

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  3. Wonderful review! I always love reviews that are, at their heart, a deep appreciation of some work and this is surely an example of that. Thanks for sharing your love of publishers and small presses as well as of their individual books. This aspect so often is evident in your writing. I shall certainly want to pay attention to the Seagull offerings in the future.

    I’ve also been meaning to compliment the beautiful new touches you’ve put on your blog design!

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    • Thanks so much for your comments about my blog design changes, Lucy! You are the first one to comment on it. I had some time over Christmas break so I decided to change things up, for the better, I hope. Seagull books, I have discovered, have a wide range of works that appeal to almost any reader. I have read a novel, a novella and a collection of poetry and have enjoyed all three!

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  4. Nice work Melissa. I have not even had time to do more than glance at this book. It took a month to get here from Chicago and arrived the night a hot water pipe burst. They suggested I might want to review it but this is the kind of thing I would prefer to dip in and out of, not read cover to cover. I am glad that you have done such a fine job highlighting this beauty.

    As for the Hoffer, the translator put me on to it. I had considered it for Numéro Cinq but On the Edge came in first so I reviewed that for February. I’m not sure if I will review Hoffer for my blog or seek out another venue. It is a deeply intertextual work that I would like to dig into deeper.

    I already have a lot of Seagull back catalogue to read before I buy too much more. And so far 2016 has not been kind to my reading, my life is too messed up.

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    • I’m so sorry that 2016 has not been very kind to you, Joe.

      I have to thank you for introducing me to Seagull Books. Naveen said that the Hoffer book would be available for review in the U.S. by Feb. so I can’t wait to get it. I think you would really enjoy the selections from his memoirs in the catalogue if you haven’t gotten to them already.

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      • Seagull Books are very special. I can’t imagine how long it would take for me to get a review copy of the Hoffer book from Chicago. I received a PDF of the copy sent to the printer back in December but only recently had time to start reading it. When I decided to have a look at all these footnotes I kept seeing I realized the depth to which other material is integrated. It reads as an entertaining tale on its own but it is much more. I want to look at that aspect in detail so I’m going to put together a review for 3:AM magazine.

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      • Sounds very interesting, Joe. I look forward to reading your review!

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  5. Wow! What a creative catalogue. I’m glad that I got to learn about it from you. It’s inspiring when people put so much love and effort into producing things that they’re passionate about.

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  6. What a wonderful thing, to review this beautiful catalog.

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  7. What a wonderful thing, to review this beautiful catalog. I would imagine they are selective as to who it is sent to? Their website is rather off putting and I’m not sure how to request it, but I will try. Otherwise, frustrating to read your review but not see it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Being from the UK I am not familiar with this catalogue. But I love the idea of reviewing a catalogue and the respect that shows to books and those who work with them
    Persephone’s biannual is the closest thing we have. Also a thing of joy from Persephone books along with the Persephone post a picture blog. Caroline

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the Persphone biannual! And their picture blog is wonderful too. I highly recommend giving Seagull a try, even if you just peruse their website. The covers of the books are gorgeous.

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  9. Fascinating! When I first saw your post I thought it was someone’s clever idea for a novel, or its title, at least. I can see just from the cover that the catalogue is a thing of beauty in itself. Like Caroline, as a British reader I’m unfamiliar with Seagull and have to admit to feeling a little envious of you for having them.

    Liked by 1 person

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